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Family's cough scare

 A LAWRENCE father is urging Clarence Valley residents to consider getting themselves and their children immunised against whooping cough after his three children - all vaccinated - recently contracted the virus, albeit a weaker strain.

Daily Examiner media sales manager Peter Smajstr said his three-month-old son Leo had to be hospitalised and his other children, Jack, aged six, and Ariana, eight, quarantined at home after contracting the virus recently.

"Our daughter Ariana had a cough probably about a month ago and because the whole family had been immunised we really didn't think it could potentially be whooping cough," Mr Smajstr said.

"So we put it down to something else because it wasn't too bad a cough but then it started to intensify and two weeks ago our three-month-old son Leo started to develop a cough."

When Leo's cough began to sound "fairly nasty", Mr Smajstr and his wife Giane took all three children to Grafton's GP Super Clinic to have them checked-out. A few days later the results came back and it turned out all three had contracted the whooping cough virus.

"Leo was hospitalised for a few days and all the older kids were quarantined at home and they've had antibiotics," Mr Smajstr said.

"They're all improving now but for me it's scary that so many people are getting it - it seems to be quite rife at the moment, especially among people who are immunised."

Immunisation co-ordinator for the North Coast Public Health Unit, Marianne Trent, said the whooping cough vaccine was effective in preventing the more serious strains of the virus but it was still possible for people immunised to contract a form of the virus but usually with significantly milder symptoms.

"What the whooping cough vaccine does is protect against serious disease; you do get some breakthrough disease and particularly when kids get older their immunity wanes so once you get over about three or four years it wanes quite rapidly," Ms Trent said."

She said for the best protection it was crucial people stayed up-to-date with their booster shots, which can be arranged through their GP.

She said the North Coast Public Health Unit was still receiving regular reports of the virus in the area and she recommended people, particularly parents with young children, to be extra vigilant.

"The people at most risk of dying from whooping cough are kids under the age of one. Anyone with a child who has a cough should go and get them tested, whether they've been immunised or not," she said.

According to the NSW Ministry of Health, whooping cough usually begins with symptoms similar to a cold, such as a blocked or runny nose, tiredness, mild fever and a cough, however the cough gradually gets worse and develops a "whooping" sound as the victim gasps for air.

Meanwhile, rather than having his faith in immunisation shaken, Mr Smajstr said he was still a firm believer in the practice and said the way he saw it, the more people who were immunised the less chances the virus had to spread. He urged everyone to consider being vaccinated, not only to protect themselves and their children, but also everyone else in the community.

"In communities where there are more people who aren't immunised and therefore get it, it means people who are immunised are more susceptible to still catching it to some degree," he said.

"At the end of the day, if everyone's immunised, no one gets it. To me it's a no-brainer - if there's a vaccine, it means it can be stamped out and no one gets it but for us to have this situation where people are still catching it, it just seems crazy."

For more information about whooping cough and its immunisation program, talk to your GP or visit health.nsw.gov.au.

Topics:  children, immunise, vaccine, whooping cough


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